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Guiding Principles

The full list of proposed Guiding Principles, Recommendations and Considerations is available. Once we hear from you through this online consultation, your input will help us to finalize our recommendations and develop them into consumer messages, tools, and resources. A new suite of Canada’s Food Guide resources will be rolled out beginning in early 2018. 

Element A: Guiding Principle 1

Based on the available evidence, Health Canada is proposing the following Guiding Principle and Recommendations to focus on the regular intake of nutritious foods as the foundation for healthy eating. 

Guiding Principle 1: A variety of nutritious foods and beverages are the foundation for healthy eating.

Health Canada recommends:

  • Regular intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein-rich foods* – especially plant-based sources of protein
  • Inclusion of foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat, instead of foods that contain mostly of saturated fat
  • Regular intake of water

*Protein-rich foods include: legumes (such as beans), nuts and seeds, soy products (including fortified soy beverage), eggs, fish and other seafood, poultry, lean red meats (including game meats such as moose, deer and caribou), lower fat milk and yogurt, cheeses lower in sodium and fat. Nutritious foods that contain fat such as homogenized (3.25% M.F.) milk should not be restricted for young children.

What this means for Canadians

The majority of Canadians don’t eat enough vegetables, fruits and whole grains and many drink beverages high in sugars. This means that most Canadians will need to make different choices to meet these recommendations.

What is needed is a shift towards a high proportion of plant-based foods, without necessarily excluding animal foods altogether. Animal foods such as eggs, fish and other seafood, poultry, lean red meats such game meats, lower fat milk and yogurt, as well as cheeses lower in sodium and fat are nutritious ‘everyday’ foods. Some of these protein-rich foods can be high in sodium (e.g., salted nuts), sugars (e.g., sweetened yogurt) or saturated fat (e.g., some meats and many cheeses) and should be limited. They can be identified using the % Daily Value (DV) on the Nutrition Facts table: 5% or less of the %DV is “a little” and 15% or more of the %DV is ‘a lot’ of sodium, sugars or saturated fat.

A shift towards more plant-based foods can help Canadians:

  • eat more fibre-rich foods;
  • eat less red meat (beef, pork, lamb and goat); and
  • replace foods that contain mostly saturated fat (e.g., cream, high fat cheeses and butter) with foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat (e.g., nuts, seeds, and avocado).

To help meet these recommendations, Canadians can choose nutritious foods and beverages, including:

  • foods and beverages that require little or no preparation such as fresh, frozen and canned vegetables and fruit, canned legumes or fish, tofu, plain milk or fortified plant-based beverages;
  • foods and beverages that are pre-packaged for convenience (such as pre-washed salad greens, pre-cut fruit) or to increase shelf-life (such as powdered milk);
  • foods like nuts, seeds, fatty fish, avocado, and vegetable oils instead of foods like high fat cheeses and cream; and
  • foods obtained through gardening, hunting, trapping, fishing and harvesting.

Plain water is the beverage of choice to help reduce sugars intake and reduce the frequency at which teeth are exposed to sugars.

Element B: Guiding Principle 2

Based on the available evidence, Health Canada is proposing the following Guiding Principle and Recommendations to emphasize that processed or prepared foods and beverages high in sodium, sugars or saturated fats have the potential to impact health, when consumed on a regular basis. Health Canada recognizes that these less healthy choices will be consumed at times. What matters most is what people eat on a regular basis.

Health Canada acknowledges that some forms of processing, such as pasteurization, have public health benefits. However, foods processed or prepared with high amounts of sodium, sugars, or saturated fat can have a negative impact on health.

Guiding Principle 2: Processed or prepared foods and beverages high in sodium, sugars, or saturated fat undermine healthy eating.

Health Canada recommends:

  • Limited intake of processed or prepared foods high in sodium, sugars, or saturated fat
  • Avoidance of  processed or prepared beverages high in sugars*

* Processed or prepared beverages that can be high in sugars include: soft drinks, fruit-flavoured drinks, 100% fruit juice, flavoured waters with added sugars, energy drinks, sport drinks, and other sweetened hot or cold beverages, such as flavoured milks and flavoured plant-based beverages.

What this means for Canadians

The consumption of processed or prepared foods is on the rise in Canada. At least half of the sugars intake of Canadians come from processed or prepared foods and beverages, such soft drinks, sweet baked goods, fruit juice, confectionary, breakfast cereals, and sweetened dairy products. More than three quarters of the sodium Canadians consume comes from processed foods or foods prepared at restaurants. As well, the saturated fat intake of about half of Canadians is too high.

Soft drinks and fruit drinks are main sources of sugars in the diets of Canadians. Avoiding these beverages and other beverages high in sugars can help Canadians cut down on sugars intake. This protects oral health, and may reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Foods and beverages high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat can be identified using the % Daily Value (DV) on the Nutrition Facts table: 15% or more of the %DV is “a lot” of sodium, sugars or saturated fat.

Element C: Guiding Principle 3

Based on the available evidence, Health Canada is proposing the following Guiding principle and Recommendations to highlight that knowledge and skills are a practical way to support healthy eating, and limit reliance on processed and prepared foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat.

Guiding Principle 3: Knowledge and skills are needed to navigate the complex food environment and support healthy eating.

Health Canada recommends:

  • Selecting nutritious foods when shopping or eating out
  • Planning and preparing healthy meals and snacks
  • Sharing meals with family and friends whenever possible

What this means for Canadians

Fewer Canadians are preparing meals from scratch, which involves transforming basic ingredients into complete, culturally appropriate meals. Canadians are also increasingly reliant on convenience foods. The increased use of convenience foods is not always due to limited skills, but also to time constraints, or social and economic considerations.

Planning and preparing healthy meals and snacks at home, and selecting nutritious foods at the grocery store or when eating out, are all skills that can help support healthy eating. Preparing and sharing food brings enjoyment to eating when done in the company of family and friends. Having meals together can help reinforce positive eating habits and help children develop healthy attitudes towards food. It can also be a way for people to take part in food cultures they did not grow up with.

As skills are learned and used, the process to select, plan and prepare meals can become less time-consuming and more routine. Building a foundation of knowledge and skills can contribute to improved food choices at any age and can help support life-long healthy eating habits.

Understanding where food comes from and how it is prepared can support more mindful eating practices.These practices include things such as  taking time to eat and savour every bite, paying attention to feelings of hunger and fullness, eating slowly with enjoyment, and avoiding distractions while eating.

Element D: Considerations

Healthy eating recommendations can make an important contribution to nutritional health. To do so, they must be relevant in the Canadian context, no matter where people live, work, learn or play. 

Determinants of health

Food choices are not simply a matter of personal choice. There are many interrelated factors that influence our ability to make healthy food choices, including access to and availability of nutritious foods, culture, and the social and physical environment.[1]

Health Canada’s proposed healthy eating recommendations are based on the best available evidence, while considering that healthy choices can be affordable, found in different regions of Canada and enjoyed by different cultures. For example, a range of nutritious foods form the foundation of healthy eating: frozen, packaged and canned products are convenient and nutritious options, especially when fresh food is out of season, more costly or unavailable.

Health Canada’s proposed healthy eating recommendations aim to improve health of the whole population, while considering the needs of sub-groups to avoid increasing unfair and avoidable differences in health status.[2]

Cultural diversity

Combining nutritious foods in ways that reflect cultural preferences and food traditions can support healthy eating. The cultural make-up in Canada is rich and diverse with over 200 different ethnic origins identified on the Canadian Census.[3] Part of this diversity is represented in the traditions, culture and lifestyles of Indigenous populations. Traditional foods and the harvesting of traditional foods are intrinsically linked to identity and culture, and contribute to overall health.[4]

Environment

The way our food is produced, processed, distributed, and consumed – including the losses and waste of food – can have environmental implications, such as greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), soil degradation, decreases in water quality and availability, and wildlife loss.[5] In 2014, the value of food waste and loss in Canada was estimated at $31 billion.[6]

The primary focus of Health Canada’s proposed healthy eating recommendations is to support health. However, there are also potential environmental benefits of shifting towards healthy eating. In general, diets higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods are associated with a lesser environmental impact, when compared to current diets high in sodium, sugars and saturated fat.[7] The application of skills, such as planning meals and food purchases can also help decrease household food waste.



[1]Special Supplement of the Canadian Journal of Public Health 2005. Understanding the forces that influence our eating habits: What we know and need to know.

[2]Public Health Agency of Canada. 2011. Reducing health inequalities: A challenge for four our times.

[3]Statistics Canada. Immigration and ethnocultural diversity in Canada.

[4]Chan L, Receveur O, Sharp D, et al. First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study (FNFNES): Results from British Columbia (2008/2009). Prince George: University of Northern British Columbia, 2011; Chan L, Receveur O, Sharp D, et al. First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study (FNFNES): Results from Manitoba (2010). Prince George: University of Northern British Columbia, 2012; Chan L, Receveur O, Batal M, et al. First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study (FNFNES): Results from Ontario (2011/2012). Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 2014; Chan L, Receveur O, Batal M, et al. First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study (FNFNES): Results from Alberta 2013. Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 2016.

[5]Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. 2017. Draft Food Policy for Canada. Available: www.canada.ca/food-policy(External link).

[6]Value Chain Management International. The cost of Canada’s annual food waste. 2014

[7]Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee 2015: Scientific report of the DGAC: Advisory report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture.  Aleksandrowicz, L., Green, R., Joy, E. J.M., Smith, P., Haines, A. (2016). The Impacts of Dietary Change on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Land Use, Water Use and Health: A Systematic Review. PLOS ONE. 2016;11(11): e0165797.  Nelson, M. E., Hamm, M. W., Hu, F. B., Abrams, S. A.,Griffin, T. S. (2016). Alignment of Healthy Dietary Patterns and Environmental Sustainability: A Systematic Review. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal, 7(6), 1005-1025. doi:10.3945/an.116.012567. Payne, C. L., Scarborough, P., Cobiac, L. (2016). Do low-carbon-emission diets lead to higher nutritional quality and positive health outcomes? A systematic review of the literature. Public Health Nutrition, 19(14), 2654-2661. doi:10.1017/s1368980016000495.